It's easy to assume that our children are either born with a high level of intelligence or they're . . . not, and as parents, there's not much we can do to influence how brainy they'll turn out to be. However, research has shown that intelligence is about a 50/50 split when it comes to nature vs. nurture, meaning that parental influence can have a great impact not just on how smart our kids believe themselves to be, but also on how intelligent they actually are.
That doesn't mean you need to inundate your children with math drills and foreign-language classes before they're out of diapers. Rather, focus on behaviors that foster a developing mind and intellect instead of praising a child's innate acumen or talent. Yep, intelligence can be grown in your children, and here are 10 ways to start planting those smart seeds.
- Talk to them from day one. Talking to your kids, even when they're small babies, is key to getting those mental wheels turning. Even when kids are too young to understand what you're saying or to know what the sophisticated words you're using mean, with repetition they'll eventually use context to figure it out. Also, asking your kids open-ended questions will help them develop opinions and a sense of self, and it will also let them know those opinions and their individuality matter.
- Crack the books early. Reading is a huge predictor of school success, so start reading with your babies long before they know what the words mean. Reading stimulates the brain, builds a knowledge base about the world, and acts as the foundation of all future learning, including math and science. Make sure books are easily accessible in your home, model good reading habits by making sure your child sees you reading often, and talk to your kids about what you're both reading to build conversational and reading-comprehension skills.
- Teach your kids to think through problems and create solutions. Don't solve your children's issues for them. Instead, encourage them to focus on a single goal or problem and figure out how to achieve or solve it through creative thinking. This act both stimulates the brain and teaches them that they're capable of working through obstacles on their own.
- Praise effort and results, not simple action. We live in a world full of participation awards, but teaching kids that they're always and naturally the best at everything makes it hard for them to accept life's inevitable failures and disappointments. Instead, praise their efforts and hard work rather than their natural abilities. Doing so creates kids who are more motivated and capable of moving forward when they encounter a skill that doesn't come easily to them. Kids who are told that they're naturally smart or talented are more likely to get frustrated and even give up when they're faced with difficult tasks.
- Set expectations early and reinforce them often. Don't turn into a drill sergeant — "You will get an A on every single test" — but by setting some overarching goals for your children (i.e., graduating college, participating in extracurriculars or volunteer work) from a young age, they're likely to see those goals as important and achievable.
- Encourage exercise. Not only does physical exercise make your kid stronger and healthier, but it also has mental benefits, building brain cells and increasing blood flow to the brain.
- Seek out teachable moments. Simply encouraging your children to use their brains during downtime can help develop mental acumen. Have them count limes in the grocery check-out line, start a conversation about wind energy when passing a windmill, or look for letters or numbers on signs while driving.
- Encourage curiosity and exploration. Preschoolers are naturally curious, but that inclination can decrease as kids get older — unless it's practiced and encouraged. Start by engaging them in topics that are of personal interest to them, even if it involves their favorite YouTube star or set of action figures. Ask questions to spark conversation, and share your own interests, explaining why they're appealing to you. You can also plan experiences like trips to museums, sporting events, or the movies that will help you find mutual likes and inspire new discussions.
- Teach your child to have a growth mindset. Encourage your kids to see learning as a process through which hard work encourages results; they'll start as novices but gradually become better over time. Then, when they're presented with hard tasks, they'll see them as opportunities for growth . . . instead of seeing themselves as failures for not immediately being experts.
- Be proactive. Don't wait for new learning opportunities to present themselves to your children. Seek out activities outside of school that will develop different mental muscles.